Monday, June 22, 2009

Farrier visit June 15, 2009

(Pictured: Buttercup ready for her regular "close up" with the camera; she gets more pics taken of her than a super model)

Last week we had two breakthroughs with Buttercup's hooves: 1) she is no longer in the "rebalancing" stage of her hoof rehab, which means her lamina will heal faster; and 2) she grew a microscopic, smidgen of a heel!

All exciting news. I've also started to use turpentine to help strengthen her soles and seem to be having really good results. Her crack is also looking like it really wants to come together (a sure fire sign her laminae is healing and her hoofwall is in the right spot). 

Right front:

Left front:

(see that heel growing?!?!)

Front view:

Not sure if you can see but that crack is actually very, very shallow right now. She's also standing a little off kilter.

In this front view, notice her hooves still lack symmetrical balance. We're getting there. We had to fix her hoof angle, start growing some heel and a few other things. But now we can start focusing on getting her better balanced.

That reminds me: my farrier is still suspecting we aren't getting adequate blood flow to her hooves. I'm going to investigate this further and figure out possible avenues to explore. If you have any information on this, I'd love to hear it.

By the way, notice the bell boots? We've gone to double bell boots to prevent any more shoes being pulled. We simply can't afford to lose any more hoof to forging.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The long, long road to recovery

It has been days or maybe a couple weeks since your horse has exhibited signs of lameness. Time to ride, right?

Well, yes and no. Hooves are a tricky thing. They can be under conditioned, over conditioned, too soft, too hard (there is such a thing, I'm sure), among many other factors.

It has been nearly six months since Buttercup and I have been on the long road to recovery. At first, it was touch-and-go. She'd be sound for days and days, then be lame for days and days. She'd be sound for weeks, and then exhibit lameness for a day.

I have lost muscle tone in the last year of lameness and recovery. Bud has too. We've lost a pivotal year that was supposed to be her big debut into the world of showing and the end of her "greenie" status.

It is so frustrating. As some of you have guesses, I happen to be a crier. And guess what, I've cried over this. Especially since the time is nearing for me to have children and that means I have even less time to compete with Buttercup. Biological clock meet lameness setbacks.

With my own frustrations, it is all too easy for me to get pushy. What's the harm if I just start 30 minute trot sessions next week? Oh, jumping that line won't be a bother, will it? Our walk-trot transitions are going so nicely, maybe I'll do just a few trot-canter transitions or even a walk-canter transition?

(Pictured: the rare occasion I trot Buttercup, taken on June 12)

I can't post on here and say I've babied Buttercup every step of her recovery. I wish I could. I've pushed her when she wasn't ready and I've lost days because of it. One example of this is when I got my brand new horse trailer in January. I was so excited, all I wanted to do was to load Bud and let her share in my excitement.

But she was not a fan of the new trailer. Not being one to let a horse win and end on a bad note, I had to push her and we finally came to terms that the trailer was not going to eat her. During the process, there was rearing and heavy-landing feet. I was so nervous the next day. I knew she'd be lame.

Miraculously, she wasn't.

But I learned my lesson. I would not ask anything that could result in an hour-long argument (though we continued with trailer loading to further cement the lesson).

The next month, I decided to take Buttercup for a relaxing walk on the beach. Bud's a great trail horse. You can take her out by herself anywhere and she's just as relaxed as she can be. Even at her first horse show, she barely balked at all the excitement. So, naturally, I figured with all the walking we were doing, why not mix things up a bit with a walk on the beach?

Well, apparently, her good nature stops at "OMG scary waves!" And I ended up with a horse that I could maintain, but could not calm down. I let her canter and extend into a hand-gallop thinking "She's out of shape and will end up getting winded and calm down."

(Pictured: us cantering down the beach in February)

40 minutes later, with much blowing but no relaxing, I finally took her home.

This was another moment of "Oh crap, what have I done" for me. Luckily, she was still sound the next day.

When is it OK to ride for a horse coming back from injury or hoof problems? I generally gauge if the horse is moving comfortably at the walk for several days, with perhaps a slight hitch at the trot, he may be fine with just a nice 20 minute walk to loosen him up. I don't trot until it has been a week or so after he is moving nicely at the trot with no hitch. Then, I give about two weeks of walk-trot before transitioning back up to cantering or jumping. Obviously, Buttercup and I are not cantering or jumping (and usually not even trotting) right now because she will still exhibit intermittent signs of lameness.

So, what have I been doing the last six months or so during the rehab process? Mostly playing it by ear, but a whole lot of walking with minimum trot work.

(Pictured: walking Buttercup on June 12)

I've heard trainers and instructors over the years extol the benefits of walking for horse and rider. I believe them now.

When Buttercup got her teeth floated two months ago, the vet was so happy with her proper muscle condition and how she has almost completely lost the heavy muscling under her neck. She looked good. The vet was only slightly surprised that only walking under saddle helped create the transformation.

I continue doing about 60-75% of our schooling sessions at the walk. Mostly because we are constantly in flux of being lame and being sound, and I don't want to push her too hard.

I have started taking dressage lessons on an old schoolmaster to help keep my fitness level up, and I plan to use dressage to bring Buttercup back during the rehab process.

As much as I want to jump and gallop, I have to remain patient. If walking means sound hooves faster then walking it is.

Here are some benefits of walking according to me:

• Improved balance for horse and rider
• Refinement or introduction of cues and aids
• Keeping up fitness levels without creating excess concussion on hooves or tendons
• Allows horse to relax and move out, so if his back is sore from being off he can get a little loose
• Breaks up the monotony of hand walking or just grooming (only do if horse is sound)
• You can go out on trails and just getaway from it all when frustration mounts

There are a lot more reasons to take it slow on the road to recovery, and I'm sure we'll hit many more speed bumps. But if we take it slow, maybe those speed bumps won't hurt at much.

I have some new pics of Buttercup's hooves, done June 15, so keep an eye out for an update. The best news? We have moved into a new stage in the rehab process! Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

You don't have to know a lot about horses ...

... to understand how important their hooves are.

Here's an actual dialog (as remembered by me) between me and my very, non-horsey husband.

"So when is that crack going to grow out?"

"Probably never. It's been there for three years. The hoof grows in funny because of the abscess that scarred her cornet band."

"Really? That sucks. Won't that cause her a lot of problems?"

"Well, she had it for two years before it ever caused any problems. But, yeah, if her hooves are not properly cared for it kind of exacerbates a problem."

"That's a shame. It really sucks that happened to her and then all this – horses need good hooves."

And he's right. Horses need good hooves. My husband does not have horse and has probably only ridden about 20 times in his entire life (including him walking Buttercup around last night), and yet he can see something wrong with her hooves and know how serious it is (not just because I've been crying over it for the last year haha).

I don't know how many of you are currently in hoof rehab because of your own inattention, but I know I feel guilty nearly every single day. As an animal lover, I hate to think I caused her so much pain.

But I take comfort in that it is reversible, and we are taking steps in the right direction. Buttercup has recovered completely from her supposed abscess and is back in some walk-trot training. (new video! )

It's like that woman who was on Oprah about five years ago who was burnt on 70% of her body and barely had a face. She said she only allows herself to cry for five minutes every day and then she snaps herself out of it, and moves on with her day.

Anyone have a horse in hoof rehab at the moment? Please share your stories!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Getting another farrier's advice

I'll say this up front: I love my current farrier. He may not be perfect, but he's an honest, hardworking man who has a fair amount of intelligence, especially when it comes to hooves.

But ... I cheated on him.

Don't worry. He knows about it.

Due to family problems, he wasn't able to come out and explore Buttercup's abscess this week. Another farrier was in the area, and he was able to fit me into his schedule. Of course, she was completely sound with no signs of lameness when he came out yesterday.

Nonetheless, I took time to probe him. I like getting second opinions. If my arm was sheared off at the elbow, I'd get another doctor to come in to confirm that my arm was indeed sheared off at the elbow.

I called a farrier near me and what I described of my horse interested him. He had never seen an abscess scar a horse's cornet band to the point of splaying a hoof (he's been in the biz for more than 30 years) and it stay splayed for nearly three years. He also was curious about why she was so acutely lame.

Without a lame horse, all we could do was guess why the lameness occurred. It couldn't be a hot nail, because she would have gotten progressively worse. It could have been an abscess, but there was no exit point. Maybe she had a touch of tendinitis because there was swelling in both front legs?

While he was there, he discovered that Bud has rather weak soles and said adding turpentine to her hoof regiment will help toughen it up.

I asked him if her hooves were balanced, got an affirmative response.

I asked about what he thought of her hooves at this point and time.

"What do you mean by that?" he asked. I tried to rephrase.

"They look fine. Look, you want a perfect shoeing or trim, give your farrier a perfect hoof. Never seen a perfect hoof? Well, neither have I."

He was actually impressed that an abscess was the root cause of scarring her cornet band. He'd said it was so rare, he never saw anything like it before and didn't know it could happen.

Remember what I said about farrier work being an art, not a science. Without prompting, I got a long dialog from him about the artistry of hooves.

"Farriers are more like sculptor – an artist. They got to see the correct hoof underneath the poor hoof and figure out a way to make it come out of there."

Looks like Buttercup is sound and I got some new advice. A good day, all and all.